The Holiday season brought us two comedies by some of the best actors working in the business today for films exactly like these. One, a nostalgic movie about a pair of sisters who return to their childhood home stars the comedy queens Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, both clearly providing very natural charisma to a role where the two great friends have wonderful chemistry. The other, Daddy’s Home, is a collaborative return for Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, their first since the excellent 2010 film The Other Guys. Both films are funny, neither rise to that acceptable of an overall product.
Daddy’s Home brings back the comedic timing and chemistry of the always silly Will Ferrell and the always dependable Mark Wahlberg. Together, they crafted one of the funniest buddy cop films there has ever been, and The Other Guys holds a solid place on the Comedy section of my DVD shelves. The issue is that Ferrell has had quite a few misses in his advancing age, and he’s not as dependable for a consistent comedy like he was five or six years ago. Wahlberg, on the other hand, has partially exploded as a dramatic actor for 2011’s The Fighter, but also gained serious credibility as a stand-alone comedic actor in 2012’s Ted. His return to work with Ferrell had all the makings to be a very funny product.
It’s not a hard premise to make funny, Ferrell is the goofy, over-emotional, textbook Step-Dad. He reads self-help books, he is an executive at a Smooth Jazz radio station, and he’s more than happy to do all the PTA and church functions for his new kids. He’s a dork, and his new world, with his wife (Linda Cardellini), is turned upside-down when her ex-husband Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) comes by to see the kids and connect to his former family once more. It’s the dorky step-dad that works in Smooth Jazz vs the rugged biological dad who may assassinate people for a living. The madness ensues after that, with supporting performances by Hannibal Burress and Thomas Haden Church working decently well.
The issue is not the actors, they actually elevate this material to be pretty funny, and quite often are there laughs. It’s just that there are so many gags that fall flat, so many missed jokes by Ferrell that become annoying, and so many attempts at being riotous that just look extremely fake. A scene involving drunk Will Ferrell at a basketball game really doesn’t work, and the two children are both really terrible actors in this. It has the feeling of a comedy that doesn’t quite work, and it takes spots of Ferrell and Wahlberg nailing the occasional scene together that saves it from being completely mediocre.
As for Sisters, it’s the second directorial feature from Jason Moore, who did the amazingly charming Pitch Perfect, as his first. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey went from years of SNL success to each do a very popular TV show in ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ’30 Rock’ respectively. Neither has had the same break into movies that they did in television. Poehler voiced Joy in Inside Out, and has made tiny appearances in films like Blades of Glory, Envy, and Mr. Woodcock, while Fey had a slight hit in Date Night, but failed with Admission and This is Where I Leave You. Both tried to break-in with Baby Mama, but Sisters is the first real showcase of possible film potential for these two.
While it’s very flawed, many improvisational insults or sequences don’t work, and the film drags on about 25 minutes past its welcome, it does have plenty of funny elements as well. When the film tries to get too serious, such as an odd connection with Fey’s daughter (Madison Davenport) or odd conversations with the sisters’ parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest), it really takes away from the best parts of the movie, which is watching insane things happen at this wild party that the sisters throw together. Watching Bobby Moynihan do drugs or John Cena stand on top of everyone triumphantly is great, and Amy Poehler’s relationship with Ike Barinholtz actually works. The craziness that ensues is worth a few chuckles, but the film gets bogged down in its own story-telling, which creates conflicting tones that are bothersome.
Sisters is at its best when Tina Fey is launching insults at other cast members with ridiculous ferocity, and when it tries to get to self-serious, it’s no longer believable. We’ve seen plenty or crazy party movies, and although, on first watch, this will make you laugh, it’s nothing new, exciting, and does drag on a little bit too long.